Death by lava is an often-used trope in films, most likely because of its slow, dramatic nature and the poetic beauty of being engulfed by liquid fire. But unfortunately as with so many things in the film world, most movie scenes depicting a person slowly sinking into lava until they are completely submerged is completely unscientific.
Lava is essentially molten rock. Just as ice and rock have different densities (try smashing two together for comparison), water and lava have completely different densities. In fact, lava is just over three times denser than water and somewhere between 100,000 to 1,000,000 times thicker (viscosity). The extremely high viscosity is why lava does not flow well, much like thick syrup and pitch. Density matters because less dense objects float when placed in a denser substance. Human beings are slightly denser than water (1010kg/m³ vs 1000kg/m³), meaning we can float if we have enough air in our lungs to provide the buoyancy. However, we are far less dense than molten lava. Even if we were as dense as lava, the extreme viscosity would make it very difficult for us to sink as the lava would not flow away from you that quickly. Ergo, if you were thrown into a pool of lava, you would not sink into a dramatic death.
Instead, you would most likely experience an even more horrific death as you stay afloat on the lava, as the surface of your body touching the lava is burned. Typical lava is between 1100~1200°C – well beyond the ignition point of human flesh. Not only will the skin, fat and muscle melt and peel away, but it will light up like a wick. The flame will soon cover the entire person and they will not only burn, but combust. Ultimately, only ash and completely dried up bone will be left floating on the lava, which will also end up igniting eventually.
Unfortunately, objects made of material such as steel and most other metals are denser than lava. This means that the Terminator would actually sink as dramatically as it did in the ending of Terminator 2 if he were to descend into a pool of lava.
(NB: It is important to note that in the movie, he descends into a vat of molten steel, not lava. Therefore, the accuracy of that scene hinges on whether the Terminator is made of a metal alloy denser than molten steel)
Travelling is fun. But strangely, the etymology of the word travel is the Latin word tripalium, which means “torture instrument”. This is most likely because in the old days before airplanes and trains were invented, travelling was often long, arduous and painful. Travelling is probably the least terrifying form of torture. Let us explore the various methods of torture used throughout human history. There are many types of tortures, but they can be largely divided into physical and psychological torture. The main goal of torture is to induce maximum pain to extract information from, punish or to execute a person.
Physical torture is very simple: inflict as much pain as you can. For example, you can simply tie the person to a chair and beat them senselessly, or apply pressure to a wound to cause intense pain. A useful tip for beating someone is to place a phonebook on their stomach or hand and hitting the book, which transfers pains while not leaving a bruise or any marks. A simple way to cause extreme pain is the use of fingers. Finger tips are extremely sensitive and contain many nerve endings, meaning sticking needles under the nail bed or ripping the fingernails off causes extreme pain. Like this, medical knowledge has often been used to develop new ways to torture people. For instance, heating the sole of the feet with fire causes severe pain, electricity used in the right amount can keep the person alive while causing pain and seizures, and if you lie a person flat and on a slight decline (so the head is lower than the body), put a cloth over their face and pour over it, you can induce a sensation of drowning (this is called waterboarding and is used by the CIA). Another simple, effective torture method is the joori-teulgi(주리 틀기) from Korea, where a person is tied to a chair with the feet bound, with two long sticks inserted between the thighs, crossed, then pulled down to streth the thighs apart. This causes extreme pain and suffering.
As mentioned above, torture can be used to kill a person too. The famous hanged, drawn and quartered torture was used in the Middle Ages to punish treasonists. The convict was drawn behind a horse for a while and then hanged until just before death, when they were disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. Another strange, complicated method of torture can be found in China, where slow slicing was used. Slow slicing involves tying a convict to a post and cutting slices of flesh off him until he dies. Executioners often had an art of slicing in such a way to prolong the suffering for as long as possible without killing the person. Another execution method found in both Western and Eastern history is dismemberment by horses, where the person’s four limbs and head are tied to individual horses (or cows), which are then made to run in different directions to violently rip the person up.
Animals were used in various forms of torture throughout history around the world. Tying the prisoner to an elephant’s feet to crush them to death, putting a rat on the person’s stomach then putting a pot over it and heating it with fire to make the rat burrow into the person’s guts, feeding them to lions or vicious dogs, coating them in honey and leaving them in the path of fire ants to make them get slowly eaten… Out of all of these, the most bizarre method is the goat torture used in ancient Rome. This torture involved tying the prisoner to a chair and securing their feet, which were coated with salt water. Next, goats were released around the prisoner. The goats would lick the sole of the feet to cause tickling, which over a prolonged period is interpreted as pain by the body. This eventually drives the person insane from pain.
Unlike physical torture, psychological torture induces shame and fear rather than pain. Threatening, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, rape and sexual torture, sensory deprivation, exploitation of phobias, loud noises (such as banging on a door constantly), blindfolding the person and rubbing a balloon on their cheeks, placing foreign objects or snakes in the anus or vagina, leaving them in a container full of insects… Psychological torture has just as much a variety as physical torture and can have longer lasting effects on the person. Furthermore, as it leaves no external marks, it is still frequently used in the modern day.
No matter what the method, inducing extreme pain to control people, extract information and cause suffering is an inhumane act that cannot be tolerated. If mankind had focussed their creativity and effort into more constructive and altruistic things rather than discovering various ways to cause pain, we would probably be living in a much better world.
On a hot summer’s day, one tends to drink cold drinks and eat cold foods to try cool their body down. But an old Korean proverb states that one should control fire with fire (yiyul-chiyul, 이열치열, 以熱治熱). In other words, instead of drinking cold drinks, it is better for your health if you eat hot soup to combat the heat. When the temperature becomes hot, the body redirects blood flow to the skin to cool itself, meaning there is less blood flow to the organs and causing the internal temperature to drop. Although cooling yourself is good, having a cold drink rapidly on a hot day can suddenly cause a large temperature difference between the surface and the organs, leading to digestive problems. In severe cases, it can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea, with a vicious cycle where the heat is trapped on the surface and you feel even hotter. Ergo, having a hot food like samgyetang (a Korean chicken soup with many nutritious foods to revitalise your health in the summer) warms the organs and allows for better communication between the organs and the skin to effectively overcome the heat.
The philosophy of yiyul-chiyul can be extended beyond the scopes of medicine. Just as the proverb defeat savages with savages (yiyi-jeyi, 이이제이, 以夷制夷) says, one can control a certain force by using the same force on it. A great example is backfires. A forest fire tends to be too large in area to be extinguished with water. But if you deliberately start a fire just beyond its trajectory, it will burn everything as it moves towards the forest fire. Eventually the two fires will meet and without any fuel to consume, both will be extinguished.
Every creature on earth knows the fearful power of fire. Learning how to utilise it is possibly one of man’s greatest achievements, as it allowed science and technology to kickstart in every way. However, we still lose control over it sometimes and suffer the consequences. Fire can develop from a tiny ember to a full-blown firestorm that incinerates everything in its path. The following are the four stages of fire development:
Stage 1 – Incipient stage: No visible smoke and very little heat. Small fire.
Stage 2 – Build-up stage: More heat causes pyrolysis (decomposition of material due to heat), releasing combustible gases. May cause a flashover (every combustible surface in the room ignites all at once).
Stage 3 – Fully-developed stage: Visible flame, massive amounts of heat, smoke and toxic gases. Everything is burning.
Stage 4 – Decay stage: Fire is either contained or extinguished. If not, may spread to other areas (e.g. the next room).
After sufficient heat has built up, fire spreads almost explosively (sometimes literally) causing extensive damage. Thus, the most important part is preventing the fire in the first place or extinguishing a small fire still at the incipient stage. As powerful a tool it may be, it can also destroy everything you hold precious within a matter of hours.
An interesting phenomenon related to fire is backdrafts. This is similar to flashovers (described above) except it is triggered by oxygen rather than a build-up of heat. Both cause a sudden transition from a small fire to a full-scale inferno. A backdraft occurs when a burning room is filled with pyrolysed, combustible gases but lack the oxygen needed to continue burning as it was used up while the fire was building up. When a firefighter or a broken window causes air to rush into the room, the pressure in the room spikes and every combustible material suddenly bursts into flames, exploding out in a ball of fire. Backdrafts are one of the most dangerous fire phenomena that claim the lives of countless firefighters.
There are many interesting medical facts regarding sleep, but there are strange pathologies that stand out even more from them. Sometimes, cases resembling sleepwalking are reported, where the patient unconsciously has sexual intercourse with someone else. After waking up, the patient has no recollection of the event, and thus may face a very awkward situation the following morning.
Sexsomnia, or sleep sex, is a rare sleep disorder; to be more specific, it is a type of NREM parasomnia (performing complex actions while asleep). This disorder is quite different from REM sleep disorder, as no dreaming occurs during NREM sleep. Therefore, the sexual behaviour is not due to the influence of an erotic dream, but rather the primitive brain functions acting on basic instincts, as higher brain functions are shut down during NREM sleep. According to reports, sexsomniacs act almost lucidly during episodes. As it was discovered quite recently, less than 15 years ago, it is under heavy research. However, due to patients feeling too ashamed of the disease or not remembering the events, the number of reported cases is low.
This disease is not directly harmful to the patient, but it can be very problematic socially. It ruins relationships and may even lead to rape. But as the law defines rape as “a conscious act”, sexsomnia is often used as a defence in trials. It is important to note that it occurs in both men and women. Within relationships, the general complaint is not that of rape, but rather exhaustion. Interestingly, as the primitive brain is not being controlled during the episodes, sleep sex is known to be more vigorous than normal sex. Due to this, patients and their partners often exhibit carpet burns.